I don’t know what my problem is, really I don’t. I love Robert Jackson Bennett’s works. And I really loved Foundryside, the first book in his Founders Trilogy. I knew Shorefall had been released
Why did I take so long to get to it? Is it the pandemic? I’m going to blame the pandemic.
Foundryside was a glorious blend of magical and political drama that had a really interesting premise: what if coding—known here as scriving—was actually magic, leaving to the development of whole fields of magical machines and engineering? And what kind of political stranglehold could be maintained if a small section of society controls the technology that underpins it?
I loved the original ‘Someone’s opened a terminal window in Renaissance Italy’ feeling in Foundryside, but I did think some of the worldbuilding was rough around the edges. Picking up Shorefall, this was one of the things I really hoped Bennett would expand upon. And I’ll admit, I’ve sort of gotten my wish, but not quite in the way I expected.
I thought we’d be getting more into the politics of Trevanne and the background of people like Sancia, Seven-Kingdoms-infighting, Game of Thrones style. But I was a little off with that one. Instead, we’re heading into a more what-about-the-Others-and-what-came-before, Game of Thrones style. It’s the deeper mysteries that are being explored here, and with this exploration comes a darker tone.
This instalment starts simple enough. Since we last saw the Sancia and crew, three years have passed and they’re all happily doing the best they can to undermine the power of the Campos in the city of Tevanne. Through mostly legitimate means. Their ultimate goal is to bring magic to everyone, which they hope will lead to a less corrupt and unjust society. However, while things start off with some Ocean’s Eleven style capers, things quickly get more serious. One of our previous antagonists is attempting to revive a terrible and ancient power. And this power has no more patience for the cycles of revolution and change that human society continually courses through. Humans cannot be trusted to watch themselves, so this power feels they must take direct action. Think less an over the top evil force, and more one with a reasonable and mildly sympathetic facade—albeit one that could unmake the world as we know it. Like if someone gave Ra’s al Ghul the power of a demi-god.
This is all wonderfully well written, by the way. Bennett Divine Cities series dealt with multiple powerful and mythical figures that could reshape the world, and the awesomeness of this power is well conveyed on the page.
The other antagonists are cloaked in similar shades of grey. But what’s even more surprising though is the hints that some of our allies (not you, Orso) are also drifting towards the middle of the spectrum. Nothing here is straightforward, and it becomes very hard to predict how the climax is going to go down.
You won’t, by the way. Things are so unexpected you’ve got a snowball’s chance in hell of piecing it all together in time before the last part of the novel plays out the way it does.
My main criticism of Shorefall is to do with the characters personal growth and relationships. Sancia is very well served here, as are a number of other members of the crew. But in my opinion, one particular character—a personal favourite of mine—was done a bit of a dirty. And another character from Foundryside that I was very fond of barely gets any page-time at all, which was very disappointing. There are plot reasons, sure, but I was still put out by it.
Usually, in a trilogy, it’s the middle book that does the bulk of the heavy lifting and often suffers for it. Shorefall doesn’t exactly suffer from middle book syndrome exactly, but it has the heavy burden of trying to move the story in another direction without it coming off as too jarring. It worked for me—personally, I’m really curious to see how the last book is going to play out. But if you read the first for high the clever crimes and hi-jinx, this book won’t hit in the same way.
For Bingo, this is Machinery. I think magical machines count, right?